A group of 56 MPs from a number of different parties have called on the Government to improve rural connectivity and ensure that rural areas can be connected via 4G. It is estimated that, if 4G is this does happen, the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could benefit from an extra £75 billion.
In a letter to Digital Secretary Matthew Hancock, the MPs have asked him to challenge the current speed and ambition of 4G coverage rollout in rural areas. They are also calling for a legally binding coverage obligation to be imposed on all four major network operators to support the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport’s ambition to deliver mobile coverage to 95 per cent of UK geographic landmass by the end of 2022.
Furthermore, the group is making a suggestion that Mr Hancock looks at implementing significant changes to the rules on transparency so that mobile operators can no longer hide behind ‘commercial confidentiality’, refusing to tell communities where and when they plan to roll out coverage.
According to Ofcom’s most recent Connected Nations report, around 90 per cent of UK premises can currently make calls on all four major mobile networks – EE, O2, Vodafone and Three. However, this falls to 57 per cent in rural areas. The regulator had previously imposed a coverage target of 90 per cent on all mobile operators by 2017 but this has been missed.
Ofcom has said it will include a new coverage target as a condition on the sale of its recent spectrum auction. Operators acquiring the licences carrying these obligations must provide good coverage across at least 92 per cent of the total UK landmass.
However, the MPs said they were concerned that these conditions might “fall significantly short” of the 95 per cent ambition. They wrote that Ofcom’s statutory obligations must clarify that its main purpose is to work towards the delivery of universal mobile coverage.